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Code violations close Poulsbo fitness center

POULSBO — Despite her pleas for assistance, Armstrong Fitness University owner Ann Armstrong has once again been forced to close her business. This time, the shutdown followed an Aug. 16, city of Poulsbo “Notice of Violation and Order to Cease and Desist Business Immediately” issued at her newly opened Front Street location.

Currently posted on AFU’s storefront is a notice that reads in part: “These violations pose an immediate threat and danger to the public health, safety and welfare of the residents of Poulsbo and the occupancy is ordered to cease operation immediately.” The violations include the need for a fire alarm, handicap accessible bathrooms, lighted exit signs and egress lighting.

The closure notice was issued after the city attorney discussed with the city council the liabilities associated with allowing a business to operate in a structure that does not comply with International Building Codes and fire codes. City staff had inspected the structure Aug. 15, and identified the issues that must be addressed before AFU can reopen on the structure’s first floor. The city said the building’s basement area was so far from meeting current codes it cannot be used at all by the new business.

“It’s a really sad and sorry state of affairs,” Armstrong said. “I’m in a quandary.”

AFU was relocated to the downtown locale July 29 after a gasoline leak near its former Viking Way location threatened the health of its clients and employees earlier that month. It was not open for business again until Aug. 9.

Several of Armstrong’s customers complained at an Aug. 8 city council meeting that she was being treated unfairly, as she was forced to pay nearly $3,250 in permit application fees to use the former Nilsen’s Appliance spot on Front Street. The city countered that it was doing all it could to accommodate the situation.

In a prepared statement Friday, Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade said “While the city has done all that it can do to assist Ms. Armstrong to reopen her business at this location, the city could not continue this effort in light of the severe safety and health issues that currently exist.

“The residents of Poulsbo have an expectation that the city is diligently doing its job in regards to ensuring buildings are compliant with the applicable codes and regulations to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare. The council and I take this responsibility very seriously and in light of the facts, had no choice but to take this action.”

Monday city planning officials declined to comment, though Quade reiterated her previous statements, and acknowledged the closure as an unfortunate one.

“I know that this is a difficult situation,” she said. “We’re working as cooperatively as possible... The city has its obligation to protect the health, safety and well-fare of its citizens... that’s our bottom line.”

Though Nilsen’s Appliance operated within the building for 50 years, the structure was grandfathered past newer codes, and would continue to be so if Armstrong was using it only for retail purposes, Quade said. Because the fitness center is deemed as having assembly occupancy, the change in the use of the building requires updates.

“The council discussed the circumstances that drove her to the building,” councilman Mike Regis said. “As with anybody using a building... it opens up the right of the public to go in there... that opens up a whole other realm of how you get people in and out safely.”

Regis said AFU must meet a different level of safety standards than Nilsen’s Appliance did, and the situation now is between Armstrong and the building’s owners to decide who will pay for the necessary upgrades. While he wishes Armstrong well, Regis said the city cannot extend unfair advantages.

“The whole objective is to treat everyone fairly and equally across the board,” he said. “Being in business is risky business.”

Armstrong expects to move AFU to the Agate Business Park sometime next year. Until then, she hopes to find a way to get up and running at her Front Street location. Childcare, aerobics classes and physical therapy were all offered in the basement of her building. She is now uncertain how to provide those services, and said she may be forced to offer a “diluted schedule” until she can move. She is currently talking with the building’s owners about how to address the needed changes.

“I want to preserve the gym and have a place where people can come and workout, but I need to make it financially responsible as well,” Armstrong said. “People are used to that availability of exercising seven days a week, and we’re stuck.”

Armstrong will hold an informational meeting for clients at 7 p.m. Aug. 23 at Kitsap Memorial State Park. She will also hold a garage sale fund raiser Sept. 1 to help with lost revenue.

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